MAR 19, 2015 8:54 PM PDT

Dawn On Ceres ... And Possibly Life

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
Dawn, a NASA spacecraft, has arrived at Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest member of the of our solar system's asteroid belt. In an orbit that will spiral ever closer until it reaches its optimal altitude, Dawn will continue taking pictures of Ceres, and eventually map its entire surface. Even the initial images are surprising scientists back here on earth with new unexpected data.

The bright spot on Ceres

The most interesting feature on Ceres heretofore has been an area which is much brighter than the rest of its surface. Scientists have seen this area in images from the Hubble space telescope, but, starting in February of this year, images sent back by Dawn have been much more detailed, about three times the resolution of images from Hubble. The Dawn images are, for the first time, showing that the bright area changes in brightness as Ceres revolves, once every nine hours, and the area moves into and out of the light and warmth of the sun. As Dawn has gets closer, the images it is sending back are getting more and more detailed. Very recently they have shown a plume being ejected from Ceres' surface, causing scientists to start asking all sorts of questions. Is the plume water? Does this mean that under Ceres' crust there might be an ocean? Scientists already know from its effect on other bodies near it, that Ceres must have some large amounts of water or ice on it, which effects that dwarf planet's over-all density. Scientists have already been reasoning that if there is cryovolcanism, that is, volcanoes where ice is behaves the way lava and volcanic ash do here on earth, there must be enough heat and energy to move water in this way. And where there is water and energy there may be life, not on Ceres' surface, which is lacking an atmosphere, but possibly in an ocean below the surface.

But the plume may be caused by some other process. The Rosetta probe, for example, has sent back images plumes being ejected from comet P/67 Churyumov-Gerasimenko that are caused by sublimation, that is the passing of a substance from solid to gas without passing through a liquid state. To know definitively what the plume is and what causes it scientists will need more information, but they'll have it soon. Each of Dawn's orbits bring it closer to Ceres, and so the images will get more detailed and so contain more information.

By the beginning of April, Dawn will reach its optimal orbit where it will begin systematically mapping of the surface of Ceres. As that data filters back to Earth, scientists will get to know, and start to name every crater and plane, the same way they have already done with our moon. Cleary the members of the International Astronomical Union have been anticipating this process. They have already ruled that since Ceres is named after the roman goddess of the harvest, craters there will be named after other gods and goddesses of agriculture, and other features will be named after harvest celebrations and festivals from around the world.


Source: Phys.org
About the Author
  • Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
You May Also Like
APR 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Can Planets Be Larger Than Their Host Stars?
APR 26, 2020
Can Planets Be Larger Than Their Host Stars?
When you look at the confines of our solar system and notice just how large the Sun is when compared to Jupiter, the lar ...
MAY 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Much Do You Know About the Moon?
MAY 05, 2020
How Much Do You Know About the Moon?
There are literally dozens upon dozens of natural satellites orbiting the planets in our solar system, but only one of t ...
JUN 29, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Hubble Captures the 'Flapping' of Cosmic 'Wings'
JUN 29, 2020
Hubble Captures the 'Flapping' of Cosmic 'Wings'
The Hubble Space Telescope continues to send us incredible images of space. It has recently captured an image involving ...
JUL 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Active Volcanoes Discovered on Venus
JUL 26, 2020
Active Volcanoes Discovered on Venus
New research has identified 37 volcanic structures on Venus that are thought to have been active recently.
JUL 27, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Bacteria More Lethal and Antibiotic Resistant in Space
JUL 27, 2020
Bacteria More Lethal and Antibiotic Resistant in Space
Research has shown that bacteria are more lethal and resistant to antibiotics when exposed to microgravity (a lack of gr ...
AUG 02, 2020
Space & Astronomy
In a Rare Event, Massive Star Disappears Without a Supernova
AUG 02, 2020
In a Rare Event, Massive Star Disappears Without a Supernova
Astronomers were studying a massive star in the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy from 2001 to 2011. When they went back in 2019 to lo ...
Loading Comments...